Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Ship

mathers steamship cleveland ohio oct 2008
Photo copyright K. S. Brooks. Do not use without attribution.

Use the photograph above as the inspiration for your flash fiction story. Write whatever comes to mind (no sexual, political, or religious stories, jokes, or commentary, please) and after you PROOFREAD it, submit it as your entry in the comments section below.

Welcome to the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Challenge. In 250 words or less, write a story incorporating the elements in the picture at left. The 250 word limit will be strictly enforced.

Please keep language and subject matter to a PG-13 level.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until Tuesday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time. No political or religious entries, please. Need help getting started? Read this article on how to write flash fiction.

On Wednesday, we will open voting to the public with an online poll so they may choose the winner. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday. On Saturday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature.

Once a month, the admins will announce the Editors’ Choice winners. Those stories will be featured in an anthology like this one. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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13 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Writing Prompt: Ship”

  1. The Ship and the Man in the Black Fedora

    It was a black ship. A ship of mystery. It moved through the waters with the grace of a shadow and with the silence of a whisper.

    No one knew from whence it came, or to where it was bound. It flew no flag and it had no allegiance. It carried in its hold a cargo of unknown type. And its crew would not speak.

    A man stood on its upper deck. A solitary man. A man in a black fedora. He held a cigarette and its smoke trailed into the night.

    He had travelled to many countries, had assumed many identities, and had engaged in many covert activities. He moved in the shadows, conducted his business behind closed doors, and knew the intimate affairs of the powerful.

    No one knew his name and or that he even existed, except those with whom he was acquainted or those from whom he took orders. And he took orders from very few individuals.

    He had boarded the ship in a faraway land, and now he was bound for an unknown destination.

    The man in the black fedora and the black ship were an enigma, bound together in a dark mystery, in a noir of intrigue and secrecy. There would be no newspaper articles about their travels; no novels would be written about their exploits.

    In a world of tumult and uncertainty, they went about their business like whispers in the night.

  2. I walked around the ship, looking for signs of it being anything but a cruise ship. I had often heard of rich people booking cruises. A friend of a friend of a friend kind of thing. The stories of what happens on these cruises is extraordinary. Paradise on a ship, heaven on earth. I often wondered what it would be like to go on a cruise but let’s face it as a low paid guard dog for the rich and famous I would never be able to afford it. Even though my reputation is of the best guard dog there is; if you want someone protected, if you want someone or something found I was your man. I mean they didn’t call me Hunter for nothing. Having such a reputation of not stopping until the job was done I should take in the big bucks. But when I started out my reputation was if you need help and couldn’t afford it, go to Hunter. Not only does he not stop until the job was done he will do it for pennies or even Apple pie, and it has stuck. My goal was to find a rich brat who is spending daddies money. Oh look there she is, oops I waited too long she has gotten on board. Well I never stop until my goal is completed. True I could have grabbed her before she got on. But when will I get another chance like this again.

  3. As HMS Kate left New York’s harbor for the Atlantic, the contents of Vincente’s stomach splattered his legs and those of his fellow conscripts. They all fell victim to the rolling ship, wallowing for hours in their vomit, and the darkness of the Kate’s hold. The young Algonquin had never been in such an inhospitable lodge and he wondered at the evil magic of the Sachem who owned such a tormented dwelling.

    As the morning sun found its way through the knotholes and separations in the decking above them, the captives were able to survey their surroundings.
    They were strapped to a platform in the hold that was no more than a man’s height wide. Suspended from the deck above, it was less than half a man’s height from the upper deck. It left them scant room to do more than sit or lay down. The hold seemed like a great elliptical barn, with a center hole in the roof like the smoke hole in a Grand Sachem’s wigwam.

    The men began to struggle with their irons and their deep sense of defeat and mortification. As their struggles to free themselves proved fruitless, they were moved beyond fear, seething with anger over their detainment.

    Vincente was less given to voicing his outrage than in assessing their situation. As he sat, quietly contemplating their predicament, he saw three sets of white shoeless legs descend the wide ladder-like stairs from the upper deck. Each sailor carried a wooden belaying pin.

  4. Wind and rain fought ferociously on this dark winter evening. Waves bombarded the freighter, causing it to roll despite being tied to the dock.

    That made no difference to Mr. Mather, the well-fed industrialist used to bending the world his way. “This ship is the finest to be had,” he said, standing on the bridge as the storm lashed the windows.

    The young captain, an unprepossessing fellow just out of the academy and on his first tour of duty, was adamant. “No sailing until the storm abates.”

    “I own this boat,” said the industrialist. “I say it sails.”

    The captain looked straight into the man’s eyes. “I think it is too dangerous.”

    “I am not paying you to think,” said the boat owner.

    “But you are and I am.”

    “You will be out of a job by tomorrow,” said the industrialist.

    “I will not put the lives of the crew at risk. If this ship sinks and the cargo falls to the bottom, you have nothing. Would it not be better if the cargo were late than never?”

    “The boat can handle worse than this. The cargo needs to get across the lake.”

    “You will be on the bridge with me if we sail into this storm?” asked the captain.

    The boat owner’s eyes bulged in surprise and then, glancing to see if others were about, said with a hesitant laugh, “I was testing you.”

    “And I you,” said the captain, saluting and taking his leave.

  5. “This ship is a treasure! What a wonderful job of restoration.”

    “The dining room alone is gorgeous.”

    “I want icecream! Where’s the icecream? I’m hungreeee…”

    “In a minute, Sweetie. Father and I are not through exploring just yet. Let’s go out on the deck.”

    Sweetie continues to scream and stamp her feet.

    Alone on deck, with the lake spreading out around them, the father indulges in a bit of quiet contemplation with only the constant screams for icecream and an occasional kick in the ankle to disturb him. Then he says, “If someone fell overboard here no one would ever know.”


    The father raises an eyebrow. The mother tilts her head to the side. They are in full agreement. Two minds with but a single thought. After a brief moment, they walk on.

    At the other end of the ship stands another couple with a boy child.

    The boy is raising a fuss about something.

    “Some people just don’t have a proper understanding of how to deal with the minor annoyances of life,” says the mother.

    “Sad, but true,” says the father. They nod their heads knowingly and walk on.

    One little push was all it took.

  6. She held her breath as the rusting chain, only inches from her trembling body, slid by her. She heard the splash as the huge anchor hit the water far below her cramped hideaway.
    Had she made it. Had she really escaped the killings, the burning of homes, the brutal rape of terrified women and screaming children?
    The chain stopped, an eerie silence filling the space. She moved her cramped body, her head cautiously raised above the top of the locker. The sky twinkled with a million pulsating lights. She thought of home, sat outside their mud-walled hut, her long-gone mother`s arm tightly wrapped round her young body. They would gaze up at the night sky and make a wish. She never asked her mother what she had wished but she had always wanted the same thing. Her father, a big bear of a man, had gone out one day to collect wood for the fire and never returned. Some said it was a tiger, others that he had been captured by the rebel army and forced to join their band. They had never seen him again.
    She slid her aching body over the side of the locker and moved silently along the deck. Pausing occasionally, she listened for any sign of movement in the blackness ahead of her. Nothing. The ship was sleeping, the only sound the gentle lapping of the sea against its rusting side. Below her, in the shadows, they waited, their batons hanging loosely by their sides.

  7. Captain Randle sighed, pushing his unruly damp hair back under his cap as he looked at the sparkling lights of a shore still too distant for comfort. This had been another grueling trip and judging by the sparse hair he’d just run his fingers through, he wondered how many more his aching bones could take. Like his friends Pulcer and McSorley, he’d weathered the contrary Lakes for most of his life.

    The radio crackled to life. A tired, thready voice from the SS Anderson could just be heard under the roar of the huge waves that continued to pummel both their hulls. “Heard from the Fitzgerald. McSorley says they’re holding their own.”

    Randle grabbed the mic, “Good Gawd, bless them. Bless us all. If we reach shore this time, Lord willing, I’ll not be leaving it again. Mark my words.”

    He heard a chuckle and the echoing reply, “Safe trip, sir,” as he left the radio room to battle winds and whipping rains to check on his cargo. Passing crew, waterlogged and pale in the failing light, he gave encouragement to his crew. He knew there were none finer than those who braved these waterways. A quick check that their ore was secure, he watched, waited as the shoreline grew closer.

    Under a brilliant blue early morning sky, the dockmaster turned, dropping his coffee as the ship lumbered into port. Decommissioned since 1980, the Mather, nary a single living soul on board, had taken one last voyage on Superior.

  8. John Dugan was one of the twenty-nine men who lost their lives when their freighter encountered a massive winter storm and went down with all hands. Patrick Dugan, was only three years old when his father died.
    Now, following in his father’s footsteps, Patrick was the helmsman on one of the three lake freighters that were scheduled to embark from Cleveland that morning. He and his other crewmates were below deck making preparations for their departure. Some of the crew were busy stowing their gear while Patrick was preoccupied listening to the weather report on the ship’s radio. Patrick turned the radio off and went to his cabin to retrieve a log he’d been keeping of the daily weather reports. As he entered, a cold chill came over him, and he began to feel uneasy. As he was about to head topside, his blood ran cold as he stared at the apparition before him. “Don’t be afraid Patrick; spoke the apparition; I know you don’t know me, but I’m your father, and I’ve come to warn you.” Patrick gasped and fell back in shock. “What…what do you want with me!?” he stuttered. The apparition moved closer to Patrick. “I’ve come to warn you that if this ship sails from port today, by tomorrow evening, it and all its crew will be lost. You must not go on this voyage my son. For if you do, you’ll join me at the bottom of this lake.” With that, the spectator vanished.

  9. June 1, 1975, Joe and I married on the Queen Mary in their wedding chapel. He had five children and I had four. The oldest was 13. Joe was 41 and I was 39.

    As we walked up the wedding aisle, I looked up at him and said, “I’m scared.”

    He looked back at me and said, “What do you think I am!?!”

    On the way home from the wedding we had a flat tire in Joe’s recently purchased old station wagon… we looked around and there was a service station across the street from us. Problem solved.

    A year later we came back to celebrate our first anniversary by spending the night on the Queen Mary in one of their suites. The bathtub had signs COLD WATER and SALT WATER. What fun bathing in salt water I thought.

    Going into the other room I couldn’t get in. I had locked the door on the other side and we could not get back into the rest of the suite. I had assumed it was only one bedroom. We had to go to the manager to get the key to return to our suite. Needless to say we played in all three beds.

  10. They crouched in the shadows of the containers scattered along the docks of Britain’s Port of Felixstowe. A rolling fog floated over the coastal waters of Suffolk lapping at their oxford shoes.

    “There it is, old fellow,” Sher muttered, patting the hunting jacket shoulder of his befuddled roommate. “The William G. Mather, out of Cleveland. What a ship!”

    “Great Scott! In a clunker as undignified as a barge,” he answered. “How did you figure that out?”

    “Elementary,” he beamed. “When anyone steals, the most valuable jewel in the world, the Moussaieff’s 5.11 carat Red Diamond, they will try to be as inconspicuous as possible. I understand at it’s last evaluation the stone was worth at least twenty million American dollars.” Suddenly, he raised his finger to his lips. “Hush. Here they come,” he whispered. “When they try to board the freighter, I’ll signal the bobbies to go into action.”

    The Mini Cooper pulled up to the boarding ramp. She stepped out of the car pressing her handbag to her breast and waved goodbye to the
    shape in the driver’s seat.

    The sharp blasts of the signaling bobby whistles ripped through the night scattering the startled thieves. Surrounded, they moaned in surrender.

    He pried the gem from the woman’s clutched hand.“That’ takes care of that.” He sighed, lit his black clay pipe, and saluted his deerstalker cap to the sniveling crooks being carted away.

    “Come along, Watson. Lets get back to Baker Street and some of Mrs. Hudson’s comforting tea.”

  11. The new William G. Mather resembled its old namesake, a steamship, but was triple its size. Inside, it was a modern cruise ship.

    Freddie and Sam saved up their money for summer, to spend two weeks cruising the Great Lakes and meeting girls.

    But two days later, in Lake Michigan, a couple on the cruise came down with the dreaded Wasa virus. The CDC imposed a quarantine, insisting passengers stay in their state rooms for five days.

    “This is a farce,” said Freddie, “It’s a big government scare, a lot of hype!”

    “They said we’re getting our money back, and the second week is free,” said Sam, the voice of reason, “We can do something else next month. Let’s hope no one else gets sick.”

    “I’m going overboard,” announced Freddie, “There’s plenty of girls on shore in Wisconsin. You coming?”

    “You’re out of your freaking mind!” yelled Sam.

    Freddie packed his money and other essentials in ziplocs, ignoring Sam’s pleas. At 3:00 a.m., Freddie left in dark clothing, stripped down to his swimsuit and jumped into the lake.

    Freddie was immediately apprehended by four National Guardsmen, dressed in wetsuits from head to toe. Two more personnel in a helicopter airlifted him back to the Mather.

    The National Guard didn’t coddle him. He never entered the helicopter, secured only by a harness. The only amenity he got was a blanket, dropped onto the deck. He was instructed to return to his stateroom and not attempt another escape.

  12. “His name is Ahab”, said Mike, new deckhand, as he opened an animal carrier revealing what had to be the largest cat we had ever seen.

    “The cap’n ain’t gonna like him”, said a large man whose overalls bore the label “Foreman”. “He hates cats”.

    “Yeah”, Mike said. “I had a conversation with him. We have a small wager going. I bet him a hundred bucks that Ahab catch more’n one rat.

    “Well, this is a brand spankin’ new state of the art super tanker. He ain’t gonna find any”, said the foreman.

    “Care to bet on that? I’ll gladly extend the wager to you… and anyone else who would like to bet. Every ship has rats.”

    He ended up betting against seventeen crew members before he turned to Ahab and said, “Go get ‘em!”

    Ahab walked slowly out of the room… and was not seen for three days. At the end of that time, he walked into the crew quarters and sat down in front of the foreman, staring fixedly at him.

    “Ah-ha, Mr. Champion Rat- Catcher”, cried the foreman, “Seems you didn’t catch a thing. So Mr. Mike, I think you owe a lot of people some money. Time to pay up, ya think?”

    With that Ahab started to cough. After a particularly nasty hack he leaned over and spit three rat tails on the deck. He gazed at the foreman fro a moment, then walked over to his carrier and lay down for well-deserved nap.

  13. In the distance a ship’s bell rang.

    Once that sound had promised adventure, passage to distant lands beyond that little seaboard town. But then Jamis had dropped out of school and signed on as crew with a freighter.

    He’d seen exotic places, all right – through a grimy porthole, more often than not. Maybe they didn’t do floggings aboard a modern freighter like in the sea stories he read as a kid, but a captain’s word was still law aboard his ship. Jamis had soon discovered that shore leave was a privilege, not a right, and could be retracted far more easily than he’d ever imagined.

    More than once Jamis had given serious thought to jumping ship at the next port of call. But while foreign cities might be cool to visit, the thought of being stranded in a distant land gave him pause.

    Now he was back in the US. He could catch a ride back home, hitchhike if he had to. Maybe just find a job and stick around for a while.

    The ship’s bell rang again, louder – shore leave was ending. If he didn’t return, he would have abandoned his job. Not as bad as going AWOL from the Navy, but still a black mark in the eyes of an employer.

    He had a choice to make, and not much time to decide. The lure of the open road, or the call of duty?

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